On Overcoming Sewing Dread

Grainline Studio | On Sewing Dread

I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but sometime over the past few months I realized that there isn’t much I dread about sewing anymore. You know what I mean by dread, those things you are loath to do – setting sleeves, putting in a sleeve placket, bias binding silk, buttons and buttonholes, attaching a collar etc. At one point or another in my sewing career I dreaded all of those things and more and being a perfectionist didn’t help things.

I first learned to sew 20 years ago but didn’t really get career serious about it until 2006 when I went back to school for fashion. I’m sure all those garment construction classes helped, as did my patternmaking jobs, but I think what really did it was sewing endless repetitive garments for hound and now here with my patterns. I’m currently making my 11th Archer in actual fabric (I also made a few during pattern development as well as 10 while testing all the pattern sizes in muslin) and it’s amazing how fast one comes together now. I remember a few years ago, sitting at my sewing machine, just dreading setting a sleeve. Now, sleeves? Whatever. It’s a really weird feeling and I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I sew.

I have absolutely no idea where I’m going with this post, just something I’ve observed while working lately that I found interesting. Is there something you dread about sewing currently or have you just gotten over dreading a particular task? I’m really curious about this…fill me in.

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61 Responses to On Overcoming Sewing Dread

  1. Jo says:

    I get false dread – I put of starting things I know I can do, and once I finally get to it, it’s all indeed fine. Maybe that’s just project dread because I never have enough time to get stuck in? So a totally different thing, in fact :-)

    There are tons of things I haven’t done yet, but these days I’m not really scared of them because I know there’s so much great online help and hand-holding to be had :-) Plus, it’s only sewing.

  2. Dana says:

    For me it’s the hem…especially when it has to be hand sewn. Ugggh! When I was younger I used to have my mom do the hems for me haha.

  3. Kerstin says:

    I feel the same way – the more I sew, the less dread I have. Sleeves, a collar? No problem any more. However, I don’t think that the invisible zipper and me will be friends any time soon…

  4. Holly says:

    Hemming hemming hemming…ugh. The garment looks almost done, and I just want to wear it, but there’s the tedious task of hemming to be done. I know it’s worth it because then I’ll have my something new…but I am a big ol baby about the finishing touches!

  5. Adjusting a pattern to fit. I just can’t do it.

  6. Clare says:

    for me it is definitely the dread of it not working out as perfectly as i have it in my head. This, i know, can be solved by sewing MORE, not LESS (which has, alas, been the case lately), and improving my skills. But yeah, i still dread starting something because of the fear that it wont be exactly what i wanted, and thus make me feel like it was a waste of time (and fabric and money). a bit silly really!

  7. Mel says:

    Haha, actually I dread cutting the fabric, which means I put off projects for a long time. The sewing part, the seeing it all come together, is what I love most. I’ve made so many mistakes that at this point, I’ve overcome the dread of pulling threads and starting over, but gathering the energy to start cutting, that’s what holds me back most of the time.

  8. I dread lots of things. I used to dread invisible zippers but they’re going okay now. I still dread button holes mostly because I can’t seem to line them up to save myself and then sometimes my buttonhole foot is just plain mean. I dread adjusting things to get a ‘perfect’ fit and I think being a perfectionist means I want to get really good at these things because I want my hand-made clothes to have the finish of store bought!

  9. tillybuttons says:

    I used to totally dread finishing seams, back when the only way I knew how was zigzag finish. Since I got my overlocker, and since I fell in love with French seams, it’s a total pleasure :) I think if there’s anything you dread about sewing, the best thing to do is to find another way of doing it. Whether it’s a different technique or putting your own spin on the same technique, there’s always another way. Hooray!

  10. tifftoffee says:

    Slippery fabric, hands down. I absolutely hate it and I stay away from that stuff completely. Other than that, i’ve found that practice makes perfect and that’s why i’m feeling less dread over things now. I mean after you’ve set in your fifth sleeve you can pretty much do it with your eyes shut right?

    I have to agree with Felicity from Down Under – I hate doing pattern adjustments too. That is something I can’t seem to get better at with practice.

  11. kathi giumentaro says:

    I used to dread a lot of challenging sewing as well. At 40 I came to realize that if I can’t sew on a collar band or a bound buttonhole etc. after sewing for 30 years then why am I doing it. I used to pick the simplest pattern with the fewest pieces and can you believe I had never sewn a button up shirt with a proper collar band. If I’m not going to push myself then why bother continuing to sew. Fast forward 5 oops 6 years and I have no fears of collar band, sleeve plackets. I’ve even made a few pair of jeans. I will admit that bound buttonholes still make me wince a little but I don’t shy away from them.
    Until the Archer pattern I had only made my husband shirts. I am on my 8th Archer. Now I get to spoil myself with beautiful button up shirts. Thanks for the best pattern ever.

  12. Jane says:

    I’ve had a UFO tailored cape for the last two years because I dread pad-stitching the under collar. I dread drawing the roll-line, really, becaues I’m convinced I won’t have IDed the right roll. This is what’s holding up progress and making me dread the entire project!

  13. Blue Sunday says:

    Very encouraging post. I’m new to sewing and a dread everything. But I love the process. It’s nice to know a day will come (in the future) :) where the process will be even more enjoyable as it is today! Thanks!

  14. Shayne D says:

    I dread cutting, but I’ve realized that good cutting equals good sewing. With garments and quilts a mistake in cutting can mean many mistakes down the line.

  15. Pants…. That’s my only sewing dread, fitting pants. The seam ripper and practice have eliminated the rest of them. But for some reason I won’t jump into the pants continuum and just get on with it. My lumps and bumps make fitting them too challenging right now. I’ve made them in the past, when I was thinner, and I’ve got two great patterns in my possession (Thurlow and Juniper) and I made an attempt at Juniper last year. But,ugh, was not successful, so they wait… Will have to get down to it some day soon…

  16. Sharon Michelle says:

    Lots about sewing scares me being fairly new to it, but after reading all of your posts I am inspired to just go for it – everything takes time. My problem is that I’m a perfectionist and want to be good at sewing straight away which I realise is unrealistic. Thankyou ladies :-) x

  17. Sally says:

    Just realized making my muslin archer has made so many of my fears disappear. Still dread (out of complete ignorance) fitting patterns – I just cross my fingers. Luckily the archer is perfect!

  18. thanks for writing about this, I dread doing sleeves, worried that they won’t go in just right, and I used to use a million pins in them, now I pin, press, baste, and then sew and that seems to work. Hemming is also dreaded, and put off (for as long as possible), mostly because I am a perfectionist! But I love wearing a newly completed item, I just need to work on more of them in stead of just thinking about them!

  19. sallie says:

    Oddly enough, I dread cutting fabric! This could be because I have a low table that requires me to stoop, and inevitably I end up with back pain, but it’s something more than that too – it’s just a tiresome step – can’t we get to the sewing already!? Also, bias binding. I’ve pretty much got it under control now, but lordy! That used to bring on A LOT of cursing!! Great contemplative post, Jen!

    • Sharon Michelle says:

      I struggle with my back too having had multiple invasive surgeries on it. I recently bought a Horn adjustable table suitable for pattern cutting, sewing etc. You can raise or lower to your desired height and it even folds down should you require the space x

  20. gingermakes says:

    It’s funny how that happens! I really, really dreaded making my first collared shirt, but I dipped my toe in with a simple shirt for a toddler, then made your Archer pattern, and it’s just not that bad. It’s sort of funny– I think I work myself up into fear when almost anything complicated can be broken down into simple steps. I rarely make huge mistakes doing something complicated– it’s (almost) always when I’m rushing through something simple.

  21. Jodi says:

    I was taught not to dread from the start – that’s what happens when you have such a great teacher as I did! I’ve been sewing since 1996. My first garment was a wrap skirt. Not knowing to dread, I selected a plaid. Of course, I quickly learned you had to match the plaid at the side seams. Once successfully completed under my teacher’s watchful eye, she told me to make it again – immediately on your own! It went much smother second time around. Now, that’s how I teach too. No fear, and do it again on your own. This creates instant self confidence. As for perfection, she also taught me that I’m the creator and my project comes from within me. She said, “nature is not perfect, and neither are you.” Works for me…thanks for asking such a great question.

  22. jenn says:

    bias binding. dread. but since reading your tutorial it has become my favorite. my fav! now i dread the invisible zipper and the front zipper on the moss skirt. i know you have a tutorial but for now i just can’t.

  23. Rachel W. says:

    I don’t think I dread much of the actual sewing anymore, but that’s only because I’ve been trying to learn some patternmaking, so I’ve swapped my sewing-dread for patterning-dread! I find myself procrastinating making test garments, because if a pattern isn’t working, I don’t want to know!

  24. Katja says:

    For me it’s more like I always dread starting a new project and when I actually get started everything is fine. I never dreaded setting in sleeeves, but until one week ago I dreaded buttonholes and it took me 3 weeks to sew those. The skirt was finished except of that closure but I just couldn’t get myself to start because I was absolutely worried about messing a otherwise wonderful garment up… now I finished the skirt and wore the first time last week and I really don’t know what I was so anxious about.

    While I wrote this it came to me that there is one huge dread to me. I own a serger for 2 years now but I’m still worried to use it. It’s so different to any other machine I ever used… Still taking baby steps approching it…

  25. Rebecca says:

    Totally! For me that’s part of the fun/challenge of sewing, it’s finally mastering the technique or tackling the intimidating part of the garment or fabric that made you want to start it in the first place. It’s so satisfying when you finally slay the dragon!

  26. Cammie says:

    I’m trying to get over my sewer’s dread by going out of my way to do all the things I’m scared of… set in sleeves here I come!!

  27. gina says:

    i still dread a lot. only been sewing for three years BUT i agree with repetition. i have made about 1000 scouts (ok maybe only 999) and it takes me no time at all. it just gets easier and easier.

  28. Almond Rock says:

    Hand sewing. I always hate how it looks even if if I’ve reeeeeally taken care with it. I’m not sure how to get better either. Embroidery so I get more comfortable with the needle? Who knows

  29. Kelly says:

    I am not a fan of hand sewing. At all. So I will try anything to get out of it! Other than that…I like pretty much everything as long as I am not on a deadline. I hate rushed sewing because I am a total perfectionist and I always screw stuff up when I am going too fast.

  30. This is maybe weird, but I dread all the finishing touches. Hems, buttons, buttonholes, etc. I just get so excited as I see a garment coming together that I get nervous to finish it for fear that I’ll completely mess it up with an uneven hemline, messy topstitching, unsymmetrical buttonholes, etc.. I’m slowly getting past it though since I’ve realized I’m the only one who ever notices these tiny mistakes!

  31. Eirini says:

    After almost two years of sewing I still dread several things, maybe most of all slippery fabrics- I haven’t cut or sewn any silk, chiffon etc yet. There are some techiniques that I am reluctant to try, like fly front zipper but they are on top of my “to learn” list.

  32. Jessica says:

    I love this post! I still have things to conquer, but I’m slowly getting over my dread for certain parts of garment construction. Zippers hold no fear for me and I’m gradually getting better at sleeves. It’s encouraging to hear of your success. :)

  33. Kathleen says:

    Thanks for a great post that resonates with so many of us (pants fitting, check! slippery fabric, check! fear of failure, check! invisible zips, check! unreasonable perfectionism, check!). I read every reply with recognition, and that in itself has been liberating. I’m on my second Archer, after pausing to size up for a better fit and to construct a muslin for a double check. I am thrilled with my new found collar band/collar confidence, and best of all I finally I have a TNT button up shirt pattern.

  34. joelle says:

    i dread buttonholes. i might just buy a new sewing machine so that the machine can do they automatically. i have to turn the fabric 4 times to make a buttonhole!! all the “difficult” things i like to see as challenges, and then get really chuffed with myself for getting good results!

  35. Joanne says:

    I don’t really dread anything, but buttonholes and zippers on otherwise completed garments freak me out a little. I prefer to do those things earlier in the process–put zippers in flat and attach pockets flat. Haven’t yet found a cure for buttonhole stress. Maybe I have more invested in the project the closer it gets to being done, and I don’t mind as much un-picking if I’m not that far in?

  36. I am very, very recently over my dread of setting in sleeves, thanks to one of your sewalong tutorials that suggested just sewing them in flat. Brilliant! Two Archers and four Scouts later, and now my sleeves go in perfectly every time, I can easily finish with French or flat-felled seams, and I get to feel like a winner.

    Now my #1 dreaded sewing task – pattern alterations. Ugh. After years of following pattern envelope sizes and getting frustrated with weirdly too-big garments, I have finally figured out that I need to adjust every bodice for petite sizing and do a honkin’ big FBA before I can even start on the endless muslining that will no doubt be necessary. Woof. No wonder all my recent makes have been loose styles that don’t really require much fitting. :)

  37. I dread zippers! On dresses the zipper is one of my last steps and I always get really anxious because the dress is just about done. What if I ruin the whole thing by somehow messing up the zipper installation? Ack! I get especially nervous when I’m sewing a fine fabric. I should just take a ton of silk scraps and sit and sew zippers all day one day. Maybe I’ll get over my dread that way.

  38. lsaspacey says:

    Well, I dread marking darts and other marks. After cutting out I just want to start sewing! I like/love hemming now because I do it my hand in front of the TV. My last two projects you cannot even see the stitches on the right side, I’m so proud. But those darts and other preliminary markings, tedious and no fun.

  39. Toni-Maree says:

    I started sewing for my little boys in February ’12. I couldn’t hide my mistakes under a ruffle and so I pushed myself to get better. I made a button up shirt as one of my first few projects and it was the first time I did buttonholes. I feel like I can accomplish so much if I just keep pushing myself. I just purchased your Maritime shorts to sew for myself. If I can make a pair of boys shorts with welt pockets and a working fly, I should easily make a pair for myself. I also cant wait to sew an Archer!

  40. Suzanne says:

    thanks for this post. I love sewing…and yet I dread it at the same time. I just got over my dart dread! I’ve moved on to sleeve dread.

  41. Kristin P. says:

    I used to dread alterations, but now I will take a seam ripper to just about anything! Except a tailored jacket. I mean, I’ll do it when I have to (for my job) but all that lining and canvas and sleeve headers and shoulder pads…not exciting. Don’t know when I’ll get over that one yet!

  42. Nikki says:

    My heart palpitates and I break into a cold sweat whenever I have to make buttonholes. They’re always the last thing you put into an otherwise meticulously constructed garment, so you’re putting its fate into the hands of a multi-step automated process over which you have very little control. Undoing a bad buttonhole is difficult and the resulting chewed up fabric is enough to make you scream. And don’t get me started on when the thread breaks halfway through! I do 99% of my sewing on a straight stitch industrial Juki, which I adore and kiss goodnight every day. Everything else has to be done on a babylock embroidery machine, which by every definition is a nice machine, but the thing is so finicky and temperamental I just hate to use it. If I lived in New York I’d take every single button hole to be done professionally.

  43. Angela Woodruff says:

    Fitting. Bust adjustments. Learning to change darts. Zippers.

  44. It used to be zippers, but now I can install them, no problem-o, and invisible zips are my favorite kind! lol – now to conquer my fear of bias binding – I’m just never happy with how it turns out… :(

  45. Suzie says:

    Argh – I hate hemming. I really don’t know why, it’s hardly the most challenging part of sewing – but yet I dread it every time!
    I guess the change you have experienced boils down to what my mum used to bark at me when I resisted practicing my piano when I was younger – “PMP!” ….Practice Makes Perfect!

  46. Andrea says:

    Hemming about hemming…

  47. sewamysew says:

    Sometimes it’s just starting for me; the tracing and cutting out. I’m ok when i get started because I’m always so excited to finish and wear it.

  48. Andrea says:

    I used to dread sewing all buttonholes, but now I just dread the top buttonhole that goes on the collar stand. Yuck, bulk. And I still dread opening buttonholes and aligning buttons under them. Always takes way longer than I expect, somehow. I used to dread all top-stitching, but now I just dread top-stitching a curve or angle and having to pivot and hoping the foot won’t get stuck and my stitch lengths become uneven. So, at least I see progress in conquering my fears!

    I think I’ll just always hate cutting interfacing, though. That’s inevitable.

  49. CraftAlchemy says:

    I’m still newish to sewing so there are lots of things I haven’t approached yet – proper trousers, proper jackets, really precise fitting, zips. But they don’t provoke actual “dread”; I legit haven’t learned how to do them yet and I’m sure I’ll get there one day.

    The dread-inspiring things are those that I know how to do and *can* do but are always far more difficult than I feel they should be. Finishing off the last bit of a collar neatly. Bias binding. Non-wiggly hems. Stitching in the ditch.

    On the more positive side, I can testify to what Tilly says about always having another way and specifically what Other Emily says about sleeves – hated sleeves, couldn’t get the ease right, and also my machine objects strenuously to sewing around the inside of a tube, if that makes sense (I’m still not sure why). I switched to always setting them in flat and they’ve entirely lost their terror.

  50. Kat says:

    Lining a garment that has a vent. Everytime I do this (okay, I’ve done it like twice) I always wing it and it’s never as neat looking as I’d like.

    I also want to make myself a pair of trousers and a blazer so badly, but welt pockets, notched collars, and shoulder stands/pads give me so much anxiety that I keep putting it off. I guess it’s always the unknown that gets you, hah!

  51. Stephanie says:

    Ah, what a wonderful place to be in! I wish I had 11 Archers in my closet. Lucky duck. I better get on that.

  52. Stephanie says:

    I know what you mean. I still have some things I dread. Like, would you believe it, perfect bust darts, but I think that’s because I’m a G cup and I’ve started pinning them in place and trying on the garment first. But yes, a lot of things I used to dread I dont dread anymore either, like sewing sleeve plackets, which has actually become one of my favourite things to do.

  53. Mony says:

    I recently had the same revelation, and also thought that having the right tools is key to master those technics, don’t you? I mean, I still suck at knits but I totally blame my sewing machine :p

  54. Colleen says:

    I still dread putting in zippers. Honestly, I sit down and try to organize myself for an hour. Then I baste and take out, baste and take out, finally make the plunge, and something is off and I take out and take out and take out. Someone just told me about wonder tape so I’ll try that. I am also refusing to learn FBA’s just because. I need them but I’m afraid. Or I dread.

  55. sarah says:

    i swear i have dread many things at various times as well but now not really too many. i don’t like making adjustments for things that are for myself. i tend to give up…so i guess i need to conquer figuring out personal pattern adjustments.

  56. Amy says:

    Cool post, Jen. I don’t know if I dread anything or if I ever have. Hmm, I’m going to sit on this and wonder why. There are certainly still a lot of things that I continually mess up (baby hems on bias edges, ugh), or haven’t tried. I find some things boring. Hemming bores me, but I love to cut. Give me scissors… I always have this internal dialogue that says, “even though you don’t know how to do it, you will or you can….” perhaps this was instilled in me when I first started this hobby with my mother? I get the equivalent of runner’s high from problem solving. If it goes wrong, I actually get giddy because it means I have to solve something. My husband thinks this is hilarious!

    On the other hand, I’d love to hear what things you most love doing, too!

  57. ANGELA says:

    Good to know it gets better….I’m a novice sewer, just working on my second ‘all by myself project.’ Trying to figure out the collar at the moment, then on to sleeves. I’m dreading EVERYTHING at the moment, but I’m picking through!!

  58. Jen A. says:

    I know what you mean. I used to shudder at the thought of sewing darts when I first started sewing. I just hated them. Now, 100 years later, they’re no big deal. I will say I dread sewing anything out of costume satin — or costume SATAN as I call it since it frays and pulls apart like the very devil.

  59. That is exactly how I feel about knitting. As I’ve been needing that craft challenge in my life I have recently taken up sewing and I dread pretty much everything! Having just finished my second garment, I have bitten the bug pretty hard though, but there is still so much to learn!

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